Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Barthes on Love

Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. Trans. Richard Howard. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 1978.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 1972.

“By a singular logic, the amorous subject perceives the other as Whole, and, at the same time, this Whole seems to him to involve a remainder, which he cannot express. It is the other as a whole who produces in him an aesthetic vision: he praises the other for being perfect, he glorifies himself for having chosen this perfect other; he imagines that the other wants to be loved, as he himself would want to be loved, not for one or another of his qualities, but for everything, and this everything he bestows upon the other in the form of a blank word, for the Whole cannot be inventoried without being diminished: in Adorable! there is no residual quality, but only the everything of affect. Yet, at the same time that adorable says everything, it also says what is lacking in everything; it seeks to designate that site of the other to which my desire clings in a special way, but this site cannot be designated; about it I shall never know anything; my language will always fumble, stammer in order to attempt to express it, but can never produce anything but a blank word, an empty vocable, which is zero degree of all sites where my very special desire for this particular other (and for no other) will form.” (Barthes, Lover’s 19)

Adorable means: this is my desire, insofar as it is unique…Yet the more I experience the specialty of my desire, the less I can give it a name; to the precision of the target corresponds a wavering of the name; what is characteristic of desire, proper to desire, can produce only an impropriety of the utterance. Of this failure of language, there remains only one trace: the word ‘adorable.’” (Barthes, Lover’s 20)

Adorable is the futile vestige of a fatigue—the fatigue of language itself. From word to word, I struggle to put “into other words”…the propriety of my desire: a journey at whose end my final philosophy can only be to recognize—and to practice—tautology. The adorable is what is adorable. Or again: I adore you because you are adorable, I love you because I love you. What thereby closes off the lover’s language is the very thing which has instituted it: fascination…Having attained the end of language, where it can merely repeat its last word…I intoxicate myself upon its affirmation: is not tautology that preposterous state in which are to be found, all values being confounded, the glorious end of the logical operation…and the explosion of…yes? (Barthes, Lover’s 20-1)

“Tautology is this verbal device which consists in defining like by like (‘Drama is drama’)…one takes refuge in tautology…when one is at a loss for an explanation: the accidental failure of language is magically identified with what one decides is a natural resistance of the object. In tautology, there is a double murder: one kills rationality because it resists one; one kills language because it betrays one…Tautology testifies to a profound distrust of language, which is rejected because it has failed. Now any refusal of language is a death. Tautology creates a dead, a motionless world.” (Barthes, Mythologies 152-3)

“There is one language that is not mythical, it is the language of man as producer: wherever man speaks in order to transform reality and no longer to preserve it as an image, wherever he links his language to the making of things, meta-language is referred to a language-object, and myth is impossible. This is why revolutionary language proper cannot be mythical. Revolution is defined as a cathartic act meant to reveal the political load of the world: it makes the world; and its language, all of it, is functionally absorbed in this making.” (Barthes, Mythologies 144)

“If I am a woodcutter and I am led to name the tree I am felling, whatever the form of my sentence, I ‘speak the tree,’ I do not speak about it. This means that my language is operational, transitively linked to its object; between the tree and myself, there is nothing but my labour, that is to say action…it represent nature for me inasmuch as I am going to transform it, it is language thanks to which I ‘act the object’; the tree is not an image for me, it is simply the meaning of my action.” (Barthes, Mythologies 143-4)

“The language of utopia [is] an entirely original, paradisiac language…a sensual language…To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.” (Barthes, Lover’s 99)

“Feet, under the table, happen to brush against each other. [A lover] might be engrossed by the meaning of these accidents…[for] he is in love; he creates meaning, always and everywhere, out of nothing, and it is meaning which thrills him: he is in the crucible of meaning. Every contact, for the lover, raises the question of an answer: the skin is asked to reply.” (Barthes, Lover’s 67)

“This trivial gesture, which I begin, is continued by another part of myself; without anything interrupting it physically, it branches off, shifts from a simple function to a dazzling meaning, that of the demand for love. Meaning electrifies my hand; I am about to tear open the other’s opaque body, oblige the other to enter into the interplay of meaning…a frenzied activity of [visceral] language.” (Barthes, Lover’s 68)

“The amorous subject draws on the reservoir of figures, depending on the needs, the injunctions, or the pleasures of his image-repertoire. Each figure explodes, vibrates in and of itself like a sound severed from any tune…No logic links the figures, determines their contiguity: the figures are non-syntagmatic, non-narrative…they stir, collide, subside, [and] return.” (Barthes, Lover’s 6-7)

“There is the embrace, which is a motionless cradling: we are enchanted, bewitched: we are in the realm of sleep, without sleeping…everything is suspended: time, law, prohibition: nothing is exhausted, nothing is wanted: all desires are abolished, for they seem definitely fulfilled…Yet, within this…embrace, the logic of desire begins to function [again], the will-to-possess returns.” (Barthes, Lover’s 104)

“[Additionally,] the one who does not say I-love-you is condemned to emit many uncertain, doubting, greedy signs of love, its indices, its “proofs”: gestures, looks, signs, allusions, ellipses: he must let himself be interpreted…exiled into a servile world of language in that he does not say everything.” (Barthes, Lover’s 154)

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tips of my words. My [language-skin] trembles with desire…[an] emotion[al]…discourse [that] discreetly, indirectly focus upon [the other] and releases, nourishes, ramifies it to the point of explosion (language experiences orgasm upon touching itself)…I enwrap the other in my words, I caress, brush against, talk up this contact, I extend myself.” (Barthes, Lover’s 73)

“A third skin unites us.” (Barthes, Lover’s 75)

“I have a craving to be engulfed…I am dissolved, not dismembered; I fall, I flow, I melt…This is exactly what gentleness is…Whence, perhaps, the gentleness of the abyss…I entrust myself, I transmit myself… Therefore, on those occasions when I am engulfed, it is because there is no longer any place for me anywhere…severed or united, dissolved or discrete, I am nowhere gathered together; neither you nor me, nor death, nor anything else to talk to.” (Barthes, Lover’s 11)

“The love story is the tribute the lover must pay to the world in order to be reconciled with it.” (Barthes, Lover’s 7)

1 comment:

brooklyn said...

Sorry: gotta comment! My husband wooed me with those first two chunks there, and it made me superweepy to read them again after three years. :)